joreth (joreth) wrote,

When Power Imbalances Masquerade As Priorities, We Accept Our Own Dismepowerment

A comment in a thread that I ought to archive somewhere. I know I've told this story before, but fuck if I can remember where it is now.

This is in response to Person A who is interested in Person B, but Person B is partnered and the partner pre-vetoes Person A. There is this idea that the person who just got vetoed should not have any bad feelings about it because they were never a partner to begin with, and any pre-existing partners should always get priority over people who aren't even partners yet at all.

I've heard this story a hundred times, and, as far as I'm concerned, all it does is serve to train people that their wants and needs are not important, so that when they do finally get into relationships, they are already accustomed to being doormats and can accept second-class citizenship in little bite-sized pieces until they are completely subsumed by an abusive relationship.

First, your wants don't matter because you're not even a partner. Next, your wants don't matter because you just barely started dating (the old "of course a new partner isn't equal to a spouse! You wouldn't sign over the mortgage to someone on a first date, would you?!" response). Then, your wants don't matter because, although you've been dating a while, you're still the "newer" partner. And, of course, your wants don't matter later because you signed up to be a "secondary", so even if you end up dating for a decade, you're still never as important as the "primary", who may actually be "newer" than you.

It's a slippery slope that is not a logical fallacy in this case because it's actually how this mindset plays out. So here is my commentary to that:

That whole "I'm not yet a partner, so it should be OK to prioritize an existing partner over someone who isn't a partner at all" can muddy the waters pretty well.  That's why I take it out of the immediate situation and look more at the patterns and the philosophy.  It's not about how he's treating me, it's about what he thinks is acceptable and what isn't.  He's not just putting *me* on hold in favor of an existing partner, he's putting *himself* on hold in favor of someone else.  He's voluntarily giving someone power over his autonomy *and he thinks that's OK*.

In addition, I have a bias that this particular method is not actually a successful one in terms of building security.  So he'd be doing all this agency-denying crap for no reason, because it doesn't solve whatever problem it's being used to solve.

To give an extreme example, take my abusive ex:

He had such massive insecurity that even the mere thought of his wife being interested in someone else would literally send him into a catatonic panic.  His method of dealing with this insecurity was to infringe on his wife's agency by not allowing her to do specific sexual acts until he desensitized himself to the idea.  He actually used PTSD treatment language, as if him self-diagnosing as PTSD justified this.

So, his wife started dating someone but she couldn't kiss this new boyfriend until her husband (my abusive ex) first visualized it without going catatonic.  Then she could kiss the new guy but only when her husband was present, until he could watch them kiss without going catatonic.  Finally, she was allowed to kiss her own boyfriend without an audience.

Then, he had to visualize her open-mouth kissing ... and go through the whole process again.  Then he had to visualize the new bf touching his wife's breasts over the clothing ... etc. etc.  They literally built an excel spreadsheet and ranked every single sexual act and sexual position to keep track of what she was allowed to do with her bf and whether she could do it without an audience or not.

The thing is that my abusive ex *did*, over time, get accustomed to each specific act.  So over time, the wife racked up a whole list of specific sex acts that she could do with her bf that didn't send her husband into a catatonic tailspin.

They saw this as "growth" and "improvement".

What they never understood is that the *process itself* was harmful because he *never* reached the point where he recognized that he was denying her agency or imposing on her autonomy.  They both just saw a growing list of specific things that didn't freak him out and said "see? It works? He's getting better! He's becoming more secure!"

But he *wasn't* because *every new thing* still freaked him out and he still had to go through the process every single time.  He never learned security. He learned that infringing on his wife's autonomy was justifiable.

I didn't see this pattern at the beginning because 1) he deliberately kept the details of this method from me when we started dating, and 2) I didn't want that kind of power over anyone and said so, and he insisted that our relationship would be different from the one he had with his wife, and it was ... until it wasn't.

Just by coincidence and the way my own libido works, I happened to not be interested in a new person for the next couple of years, so his wife's relationship with her boyfriend kept "growing", and I didn't have my own new partner to challenge him.  When I finally did develop an interest in someone new, he fell back on old patterns, as one tends to do when one is mired deep in fear.  He tried to insist that, not only he but our *entire network* needed to give approval to any new partner I had before I became sexual with that new partner.  Because the underlying premise never changed - that anyone should have the power to infringe on another person's agency.

That does *not* work for me.

So I resisted. In the ensuing argument, he revealed to me that he had grown interested in this other woman, let's call her Chloe.  Years ago, I had a partner who had tried dating Chloe.  It was a disaster.  She has some of the worst communication skills of anyone I've ever met.

In the early days of our relationship, when we were still getting to know each other and exploring and explaining how we each do things, I had mentioned that I cannot be metamours with her.  I would not tell anyone that they couldn't date her, but if someone that I was dating *did* date her, I could not date them anymore.

So, later, when he became interested in dating her, he chose not to date her in deference to me. He *used* this in our later arguments to convince me that I should defer to him with my new partner.  He insisted that, because he gave up a relationship for me, I should be willing to do the same thing.

I was *horrified* that he would have passed up a relationship that *he wanted*, without even talking to me about it, just because he thought I would say no.

He also brought up another partner that he *did* end up dating, whom I'll call Sierra, pointing out how he waited until he had my approval before dating her.  I told him at the time that I was not giving "approval", that he was free to date or or not as he saw fit.  I thought he understood that he could still choose to date her or not, and that just because I liked Sierra and had no problem with them dating, this was not my "approval", nor my "permission".  But he didn't understand that, because he brought up Sierra, and the fact that he only started dating her because I said it was OK, in this later argument.

So, during this argument, I got mad at him for giving me this power when I explicitly told him that I didn't want it. But especially now because he did this whole self-sacrifice thing without even telling me about it and expected his sacrifice to persuade me to make the same sacrifice in his favor.

Very little infuriates me in a relationship more than "I did this thing for you that you didn't know about and you don't want, so now you have to do the same thing for me!"

So, not only did this whole "put someone else off until security magically appears" not work, it was a sign of a pattern that wove itself very deep into how his relationships work.  The act of denying someone their agency to assuage one's own fears reinforces itself when the fears are temporarily relieved.  All this method does is teach people that denying one's agency is justifiable.  

And it doesn't just teach the people doing the agency-denying either.  It teaches us to accept it from others with small, incremental steps.  Kind of like how abuse works.

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Tags: abuse, couple privilege, fear, hierarchy, polyamory, relationships

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